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July 21, 2018

7/10/2018 10:29:00 AM
Editorial: We Urge City Council to Preserve Social Services, and Explain Cost Increases on Crown Center

 In a community survey administered between May 10 and June 7, community members had the opportunity to provide input on 46 programs that the City listed as possible programs that it could cut back or eliminate in order to HELP balance the City’s 2019 budget. In the survey, community members were asked to select their top 10 programs to keep, and their top 10 programs to eliminate.  

One key finding of the survey is that residents favor keeping social services provided to residents.

A total of 3,304 residents participated in the survey. Out of the 46 programs on the list, these were identified as the top ten to keep:

  • Mental Health Board ($750,931) – 63%
  •  Youth and Young Adult Services ($940,844 – 60%
  • Summer Food Program/Child Nutrition/Congregate Meal Program ($53,129 – 57%
  • Social Services (Victim Advocacy) ($356,289) – 57%
  •  Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program ($602,314 – 49%
  •  School Crossing Guards ($461,791) – 47%
  •  Special Recreation Programs ($256,476 – 35%
  •  Community Health ($266,476) – 34%
  •  Animal Control ($271,039 – 33%
  •  Minority/Women/Evanston-Based Enterprise & Local Employment Program ($140, 940) – 30%

Mental Health Board funding received more support in the survey than any other program. In the past, the City’s Mental Health Board has allocated funds to many non-profit agencies that have served and continue to serve some of the most vulnerable residents of Evanston.

The agencies include the Childcare Network of Evanston, Family Focus, Impact Behavioral Health (formerly Housing Options), Meals at Home, the Moran Center, North Shore Senior Center, Connections for the Homeless, Infant Welfare Society, Metropolitan Family Services, North Shore Center Against Sexual Assault, PEER Services, Shore Community Services, and Trilogy.

The funding provided to these agencies is generally a small part of their total budgets. It is essential, though, for two main reasons. First, many of the agencies are faced with cuts in funding from the State and the federal governments, making community support more crucial than before.

Second, many of these agencies use the City’s funding as evidence of community support when they solicit grant funds from foundations and major donors. Each of these agencies provides a benefit to Evanston residents far, far in excess of the funding provided by the City.

As part of the budget process for 2019, City staff are conducting a comprehensive look at social services. We urge that in making their analysis, the City consider the value provided by these non-profit agencies in serving vulnerable residents in Evanston, the benefits that these agencies provide to residents of Evanston versus the amount of funding provided by the City, the difficult financial position these agencies are in, and the direct and indirect costs the City might incur if these agencies had to cut back on or eliminate the services they provide.

We also think the City should consider if it mentions the services these agencies provide in its submissions to State and federal agencies in seeking grant funds or in demonstrating compliance with federal or state regulations.

We urge that Mental Health Board funding be kept intact.

There are many other social service programs on the potential chopping block that should be preserved, including Social Services (victim advocacy), which already suffered cuts last  year. We applaud Council’s taking potential budget cuts to Youth and Young Adult Services and the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program off the chopping block.

Part of the City’s budget crunch this year (and future years) is due to the estimated cost of a new Robert Crown Center in the amount of $53 million.

At a second ward meeting on June 2, 2016, Marty Lyons, the City’s then Chief Financial Officer, said a decision on whether to renovate the existing Crown Center or to construct a new one would depend on how much money the City could raise through fundraising. He said it would cost between $18 million and $20 million to rehab the building. To construct a new building would cost about $30 million, he said.

At that time he said City Council indicated its willingness to put $10 million into the project, and the Evanston Public Library said it will put in $2.5 million, for a total of $12.5 million. He said, the fundraising effort would need to raise about $6 million to renovate the building and about $18 million to build a new facility.

A little more than a year later on Sept. 29, 2017, the City posted on its web site that the estimated total project cost was $40 to $46 million, and that the potential funding sources were $19.5 million from the City and Library, and $15 million through fundraising – which was short of the estimated cost.

The City and City Council owe the community an explanation of how the cost mushroomed to $55 million. We also think the community deserves an explanation of how the cost was estimated at $30 million in June 2016. Alderman Peter Braithwaite asked for an explanation a few weeks ago, and we thought it would be given on July 9. But it was not. We’re waiting.

The City should show that it is as concerned about its vulnerable residents as it is for two ice rinks.







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